Denver, CO

Denver council member blasts homeless coalition

David Heitz
Jon Tyson/Unsplash

A $10 million contract between the city and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to provide housing and support services to the unhoused squeaked past committee Wednesday.

The matter was discussed at the Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee. It was forwarded to the full city council for approval.

The money will provide housing to 234 people per year over the course of three years. It also pays for supportive services such as addiction counseling, mental health services and more.

For this contract, the Coalition works with private landlords to find properties that will rent to the unhoused. Other contracts may be for larger, Coalition-owned complexes like Fusion Studios in the Central Park neighborhood. In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter lives at Fusion Studios and receives wraparound mental health care and case management. I pay 30 percent of my income toward rent.

City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer criticized the Coalition and its leader, CEO John Parvensky, during the meeting. She said the Coalition is “failing to be accountable in places they already run. They’re not doing the job that they should be doing already.”

She said a building in her ward run by the Coalition has fallen into disrepair. It is taking too long to make needed repairs, she said. The building has not had any improvements over time, Sawyer said.

“We are sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Sawyer added. “We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” She said the Coalition is a large organization that is poorly run.

Coalition email ‘very defensive and full of excuses’

Sawyer said the need for housing for the homeless is great, so the city must provide the services. “But I want to say no because we cannot keep doing business this way.”

She said after voicing concerns about a property, Parvensky sent her an email that “was very defensive and full of excuses.”

For their part, nobody from the Coalition spoke at the meeting.

City Councilwoman Robin Kniech said the council needs to have a tough conversation with the Coalition. But, she added, the Coalition’s services go beyond housing. It includes clinical services that they bill Medicaid for.

City staff said the Coalition was chosen through the competitive bid process. The Coalition runs a federally qualified health center that’s an important part of support services for people experiencing homelessness.

City staff said non-profits across Denver are having staffing problems and even difficulty finding contractors to fix things.

Sandoval asks about Ramada on Zuni

Kniech said she wanted to use the meeting as a teaching moment. “The perception is that the city or state is providing free housing. But these people have leases and pay rent.”

Staff explained that people experiencing homelessness who receive housing pay 30 percent of their incomes for rent. “There absolutely is responsibility on the part of the person experiencing homelessness.”

City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval wanted to know whether some people will be housed at the Ramada Inn on Zuni. Staff responded they will not.

City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore asked city staff if the properties met basic housing standards. The properties were exempt from local regulations because they must adhere to federal rules. “Are facilities passing inspections, or does there need to be more supports?” Gilmore asked. “The most vulnerable deserve to have the same safe (housing) situation as the rest of us.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO

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